Tigmanshu's Twisty Tour De Force!
By MovieTalkies.com, 30 September 2011
Rutba hai, rupai nahin. A throwaway line, spoken by a throwaway character, cuts to the core of Tigmanshu Dhulia's Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, as the man behind films like Haasil and Shagird carves a curious ode to Guru dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Slick at its worst, and spellbinding at its best, Tigmanshu's violently erotic take on the classic is built around a brilliant script and performances to match, in a film that keeps you knotted till the very last twist in the tale is revealed.
Tigmanshu's latest is a suspenseful drama of crime and romance set in an erstwhile princely household, led by the titular Saheb of the manor. He is a raja without rupee who has to beg his despised step-mother, the queen, for dime, even as he bloodies his hands to land lucrative government contracts in his kingdom of Deogarh. Though his money may have abandoned him, the royal mannerisms haven't, and even in his depressed state, he manages to keep a concubine, Mahua, on the side, driving his Biwi, the Choti Rani of the house, to drink. This Biwi has airs of her own, constantly challenging the writ of the Saheb, in an effort to gain his attention and her rightful place in the household, an effort that has driven her to the edge of insanity, seemingly. In the midst of this power struggle, enters the 'Gangster', a small-time crook who's been sent to Deogarh by the Saheb's industrial rivals, to pretend to be a driver and bump off the big fish. This 'Gangster', however, has plans of his own, to seize the spoils of the land for himself, as he finds himself falling in love, or lust, with the mysterious Biwi of the house. Between the three, the 'Saheb', 'Biwi' and 'Gangster', finds themselves being drawn into a game of romance and deceit, culminating in a tragic, twisted climax of Shakespearean proportions.
The film dazzles from the get go, as Dhulia crafts a meticulous image of life on the Saheb's estate, drawing visual metaphors in his story as he contrasts the Saheb and his Choti Rani's royal airs with the crumbling, greying walls of the palace. Everything is in shambles here, even as the householders carry on as if they are rife in royalty, the Choti Rani insisting at one point that yahan, badtameezi bhi tameez se kee jayegi. In the visuals he crafts, Tigmanshu's settings take on a life of their own, a silent fourth character in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.
Tigmanshu's characterisations are as captivating as his settings, every player in this pastiche etched to perfection. There are points in this drama when you pity every character on screen, be it the Saheb, who feels cheated out of his rightful inheritance by his late father's moll, who is now the Maharaja, the neglected Choti Rani, who is simply dying for attention, any attention, or the 'Gangster', who may just have been manipulated by the royals. At the same time, though you can't help but feel a sense of dread and menace as every character here seems to be dripping with a sense of undue entitlement. Having made his mark in the industry first as a writer, Tigmanshu truly dazzles with his ink here, penning characters and dialogues worth remembering and repeating.
Dhulia's detailed vision is only complemented by his casting choices, each one of which can only be described as pitch-perfect. Jimmy Shergill is brilliant as the brooding, menacing Saheb of the house, who, though not above common violence, thinks everyone else in the picture to be beneath him. Shergill's performance channels a bit of his turn in Tanu Weds Manu earlier this year, but his role here stands heads and shoulders above anything else he's done in recent years. Shergill is a genuinely talented actor, and that is what he puts on display here. And if Shergill's Saheb is menacing, then Mahie Gill's Biwi borders on the psychotic. The talented actress has been waddling the Bollywood line in a string of non-starter roles since her debut in Dev D, but finds herself in her element as the drunk and dangerous rani of this movie. Though there are points when she seems a bit over the top, it is nothing that the script doesn't ask for, and Mahie truly delivers.
The final pawn in this setpiece is Randeep Hooda, whose 'Gangster' exudes an irresistible loutishness in the early parts of the film, but quickly takes on darker overtones as the film proceeds. Randeep is another who has suffered a fate similar to Mahie's, having been saddled with more than his share of unworthy roles since his debut in Monsoon Wedding, and finds himself more than upto the challenge of his character here. Apart from the three main leads, Tigmanshu also populates his film with a host of peripheral characters, all of them played by actors seemingly made for their roles. Vipin Sharma as Gainda Singh and Deepraj Rana as Kanhaiyya, as the Saheb's criminal rival and bodyguard respectively, are superb in their roles. Deepal Shaw is a revelation in her short role as the spunky Bijli, and amuses with her enunciated 'Babaloo'. Shreya Narayan doesn't need to emote much, but is quite scintillating in her role as the Saheb's moll, Mahua.
The film's brilliant visuals find a counterpart in its soundtrack, in tracks like the sweet but erotic raat mujhe or the pumping saheb bada hatila, the theme of the film. The interesting thing about the film's score is how Tigmanshu has picked out anachronistic melodies as well, to perfectly complement the out of place, out of time settings of his subject.
All in all, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is a clear masterstroke from a gifted film-maker. As for Tigmanshu Dhulia, the film is also a triumph for its three lead stars, Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill and Randeep Hooda, all three of whom find a perfect platform to display their considerable, though underappreciated skills. Perhaps one of the best works of the year, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is a must-watch!